The Official 4th Annual Mudspike Christmas Flight - 2018 Edition



Had the good fortune to see this Privateer at the Chino airshow the past couple of years.

PB4Y-2 Privateer at Chino 2017



Thanks…looks like enough for me…what is everyone else going to be drinking? :wink:


This is probably pretty common with Mudspikers…



The flight was over and done with pretty quickly, actually. Whether I made it or not remains to be seen when I get around to doing the full, final report. As space flight is actually pretty loaded with a great deal to do and very little time at the critical points, I recorded the mission (which was flown on Orbiter 2010, with the stock Atlantis). I will get the screenies from the playback.

Choosing my words carefully, as to not give away the outcome, I had a contingency plan in case things went wrong. In any case @PaulRix might rescue me from that (if, that is, my calculations went horribly wrong and I did not make it). LOL!

Right now, all I can say is…

I should never, ever eat like I just did again. I’m feeling SO bad.


I’m at the beach bar on Pago Pago scanning outside the reef break for a Kerbal raft…


All right. After my stay in Denver, I dumped the 777 for something a little more enjoyable.

It’s going to be a while though…

I made it to Salt Lake City and am looking forward to the next 11,000 miles – give or take. :slight_smile:


I did that today too. Twice!

For breakfast, I copied the Chik-Fil-A chicken breakfast platter (that you can’t get anymore) - breaded chicken breast, biscuits (wife made those), sausage gravy and scrambled eggs.

Then I smoked a turkey on the Big Green Egg (a process that started yesterday morning) and we did it again Christmas dinner!

That was about 4 hours ago – feeling better now.

Well, all this talk of food is making me hungry; time for a turkey sandwich!


Biscuits and gravy was a meal I only discovered after moving to the South…mmmm…I was missing out. And chicken bog and shrimp and grits…


If you’re in the South, scrapple. You gotta try it.

Also as a resident of central Texas, breakfast tacos. The perfect breakfast delivery system. At this point I’m about comatose from chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, yeast rolls, and pecan pie. Seconds will be starting shortly.


**Hampton to Pago Pago **
Leg 9 - Aqaba, Jordan to Kuwait City, Kuwait.
Leg 10 - Kuwait City, Kuwait to Male, Maldives
Leg 11 - Male, Maldives to Cochin, India

As I write this at 1830 EST on Christmas Day, I obviously have not made it to Pago Pago…yet. But Have made three more flights and am getting closer.

A long trip over the desert…

Leg 9 AAR

For the flight from Aqaba, I say goodby to my F-4 Phantom II and climb aboard my old workhorse, the B707-300.
My route:

Again we are using the CIVA INS system. This is the longest flight with this navigation and I know that the INS platform will drift en route. Still I end up with a couple of VOR DME Navaids. I can recalibrate the INS using a DME update, however, I will just probably just to the VORs to end the trip.

The Captain Sim B707 has a few interesting animations. So I check the radar and an engine while getting set up for the flight. Unfortunately one of the animations is not airstairs, No jetways in Aqaba, so I inflate the forward escape slide…the kids love it.

I have a “full bag of gas” (I’m done with trying to figure out fuel requirements for this jet) so I take up a good deal of the 9,874 ft runway…the JT3Ds smoking at full power.


Once airborne, it accelerates nicely and I am soon climbing to altitude.

So this is pretty much the scenery for the next few hours.

Fuel Management: The standard Boeing fuel management stratagem is fairly simple. For Takeoff and Landing, each engine draws from its own tank which are isolated from the rest of the fuel system. I think the idea behind this is that if there is bad fuel or a malfunction somewhere in the system, it will not cause multiple engines to fail. Now that we are at cruise altitude, I configure the system to draw from the main center tank. Once that is empty, the system will start drawing from the engine tanks.

More desert.

As long as I keep updating the CIVA with waypoints (and don’t accidentally turn it off) this should be a straight forward flight.

My GS is looking pretty good.

A thunderhead with lightening breaks up the desert monotony.

I’m closing in on the destination. Checking the INS against DME, it looks like I have about 3 Nm difference. Not too bad.

I was flying IFR, as in I Follow Roads…but then the road ended…did I mention boring…

I was cleared in for a visual right base approach to RWY 31. However, as I was descending, setting flaps and doing the rest of the “housekeeping chores”, I got out of position and had to take a downwind leg.

That was my only “Oops” on this flight. Landing went fine.

Taxiing to the stand…it is a fairly busy airport.

As I park, lo and behold, there is the aircraft for the next leg, a Kuwaiti Airways Airbus A300-200 courtesy of Ultimate Traffic II.

A long trip over the Ocean…

Leg 10 AAR

Loading “my” Airbus next to the UTII models I see some differences. I’ll state right out that this isn’t the best livery, but it was free…so…here we go.

The model I’m flying is SimCheck’s A300B-200, released by Aerosoft a number of years ago. The cockpit is far from photo-real, however they have done a fairly good job of modeling the systems. The A300 was Airbus’ first airliner. It is not fly-by-wire. It still has a yoke ,a FE station and the old CIVA INS.

Here is the route:

Takeoff and climb were nominal.


Again, I was heavy. I don’t have the tables for the A300, however, I planned on a step climb up to at least FL390, starting at FL330.

Unfortunately, there is no drift for this CVIA–just not modeled.

So a little less realistic, but then again, after I pass over Oman, there is not another VOR DME until the destination.

The trip down the Arabian Gulf (since we are not talking DCS, I can use the US name) is fairly scenic from an AI standpoint. First I sighted USN CG. I have Haze Gray Studios AI Fleet Traffic–US Navy installed. (I helped the developer with Beta testing, did some scenery work and installer programing.) Its a nice AI package that populates USN units–Carriers, Amphibs, CGs, DDGs…even supply ships–in realistic deployments around the world.

Then I caught sight of this guy. It is an A320/321 in default UTII livery…and evidently traveling much faster than I am. It is probably on the same airway.

Fuel management in the A300 is similar to the B707, but with automatic pumps/valves. I draw from the center tank first.

Flying over the coast of Oman…the last land we will see for a while. I know this area well from the DCS Persian Gulf map…yep, I’ve ejected from many a Viggen down there…

The center tank is dry, I automatically start drawing from the main/engine tanks.

So this is what I saw for the next few hours…check the fuel…check the CIVA…look out the window…repeat

Once the center tank was dry and the two main tanks had drawn down, I decided to step up to FL410. I started the climb and was passing through FL390 expeditiously–1000 FPM. Then I got Pressurization Caution. The cabin pressure differential was too high. I had forgotten to reset the cruising altitude in the pressurization system. I tried to do so, when I found that the A300’s pressurization only goes up to FL380 (technically 38,885 ft)…and here I am passing FL400. Time to go back down to FL380.

I hit my TOD well out over the ocean. I had leveled off at 5000 ft when I sighted the northern Maldives.

Then I ran into some cloudy weather.

I needed to descend to the published approach altitude of 1500 ft…where I broke out of the clouds.

RWY 36 is the active. As you can see, arriving from the north, the STAR requires you to make a 12 Nm DME arc from the MLE VOR DME. I headed to the western side.

I’ve never been good at maintaining a constant DME. I zig-zag back and forth, this time from 9 Nm to 14 Nm. If any of you real pilots knows the “secret”, shout it out. Anyway, I managed to intercept the Localizer and then the GS.

I disengaged the AP a bit early and the jet floated. I hadn’t see this kind of VASI before, but I was pretty sure all white on short final means too high. I should have gone MA…but I was tired and had 10,544 ft of runway to work with so I just cut power.

I landed a bit long but with Auto-Brake set to high, Thrust Reverse and Spoilers, I stopped with room to spare.

Taxied in and parked next to a Qatar Airbus…a “neighbor” in the Gulf.

Behind the A300’s tail, hidden behind some buildings is the float plane docks…so after shutting down and take a short walk across the airfield.

Low, over water, at night…

Leg 11 AAR

I man up a Trans Maldivian DHC6 Twin Otter for a hop over to India. This model is the updated Aerosoft DHC-6 Twin Otter X…or Extended…or…whatever.

Its systems modeling–mostly engines and icing–are more complete than the FSX standard. At 4º N Latitude, I shouldn’t have icing issues cruising at 8,500 MSL. However, I will need to watch engine temperatures.

My route is fairly strait forward. I’ll use Low Altitude airways to get to the Indian coast. Once there, I’ll head north, direct to the CA NDB which will get me to Cochin.

I have two destination airports to chose from. Looking at the overhead imagery of Cochin, it looks like there are some docks nearby Cochin Airport (VOCC) on Willingdon Island in Cochin Harbor. So I’ll try VOCC first. However, if the scenery isn’t that detailed, I’ll head up the to Periyar River to and beach near the end of Cochin International’s (VOCI) RWY 9…a short walk to the ramp.

Taxied out into the Male lagoon and took off to the north.

It took a few minutes to climb to 8500 ft, my cruising altitude.

I take a look at the charts for a DHC6-100 Floats–75% Np Economic Cruise: At 8,000 ft, I am looking for 260 PPH each engine and 36 psi torque, each engine.

I set it using the power levels (fuel flow) and propeller levers (torque)…but I am still looking at 92% Np…however, my IAS (not shown–it was about 130 KIAS) is about right for my weight.

Um…how do you pronounce that?

Takeoff twas late afternoon. Dusk came and went. Approaching the coast in the dark, at least I will have a near-full moon.

Note: As previously mentioned, it was at this point that, while attempting some fuel balancing, I “missed a stitch” and shut down my engines. I put the fuel configuration back to “Normal” and got the left engine restarted. The right engine…not so much…until I noticed the Boost Pump was off. I remedied that and soon had the right back on line.

So with both engines humming (and reset for economic cruise) I soon made landfall at the Thiruvananthapuram Int’l and turned north at the co-located Trivandrum VOR DME. I have no idea how to pronounce either one.

Heading north I turned on my landing lights and descended to 4,000 ft MSL.

The first look at Cochin Harbor and Willingdon Island was not promising (The VOCC beacon is the bright dot near the middle of the screen shot).

I went down for a closer look…no docks or piers…Plan B, head for VOCI.

I headed North east and came into view of VOCI and the Periyar River reflecting the moonlight.

I plan on landing towards the east side of the river, just beyond the bridge to that island.

There is the bridge. I’ll fly level, at just above Vref and then drop down once I clear the bridge.

Touchdown…or is it Splashdown with a float plane? Regardless, another safe landing.

I beach the aircraft just off the end of RWY 9 and shut down…sure is dark out there,

This overhead view confirms my location. So after a short walk I’m ready to start the next Leg.

It is already Christmas.
At this point I’m thinking to myself, “Self…You have done the CIVA thing to death. You have flown…OK, perhaps the verb I’m looking for is ‘survived’…flights in several different aircraft. You have been at this for several weeks and still have, as the crow flies, 6,880 Nm to go. Had gone west, instead of east, I would have started 762 Nm closer than I am right now!

I need some “Big Leaps”. I can still continue with my “Aircraft registered in the country of the Leg’s Origin” theme…after all, I found aircraft from Croatia and the Maldives! But… as @PaulRix said, this is supposed to be fun.

So,I’m going to take a day or two off and wrap this up with some custom liveries and interesting planes. Stay tuned!


Time for me to head South to Christmas Island (not the one we went to last year)…
The planned route…

Off we go! I decided to depart just after sunrise…

Within a few minutes of taking off, I climbed up through a cloud layer. Hawaii invisible behind me, and nothing but ocean ahead (and a small island hopefully)…

The Sky Vector flightplan showed that this would be a 7 Hour, 44 minute flight and that the heading would remain fairly constant. So, I climbed up to 8000 ft, set the autopilot and headed off to bed. Some things in the sim world are better than real life :wink: .

Several hours later I got up to let my dogs out, and then checked on the flight… A quick position check revealed that I was drifting a little to the West of course, but nothing too bad. I made a 15 degree course correction and went back to bed for an hour.

I returned to my PC a bit before the planned arrival time, and I was pleased to see that my ADF had picked up the Christmas Island NDB! I descended down to 2000ft to get below a cloud layer…

Shortly after, Land Ho!

Christmas Island International Airport.

I landed on a lagoon just to the South of the airport. Another leg complete. Maybe I will make it to Pago Pago before all the booze runs out at the Mudspike party!


Ooofff! The thought of that would have made me :nauseated_face: yesterday.


A bit of a catch up post coming up in a moment. I have not had the time to do the write ups these last couple of days…


Hope everyone had a good Christmas and happy holidays!

Time for the last few legs at hand…

The sun is rising…somewhere else on the planet, not at Pago Pago. I’ve dreaded this, but it’s up at 3AM and time to fly a leg to Hawaii. The 757 was dropped off last night, courtesy of company. The TBM is loaded, the 757 is going to be light, like a rocket ship.

Now unfortunately, in the dead of night…you won’t see anything but some nav lights and what not…so we skip ahead. I was right about the weight, 3000FPM is easily achieved on conservative thrust, eventually the plane got somewhere up around 4000 as well.

The sun rises over the Pacific… really not much to see.

But we chug on…

for 4 hours… But then, it’s finally time to start our descent into PHNL. The arrival will take us directly to the HNL VOR, however the cargo ramp is beside 04R, the winds are 063 @ 14 which means, not only can I land straight in…I also have a stupid short taxi!

I’m really bad at remembering to take photos…But here’s Bob, putting stuff into the cargo hold. Why? I’m not quite sure really. There’s already my precious TBM in there? What else could I need?

No more faffing about! It’s push back time, the planes still light. Despite whatever was added before… Now it’s off to KLAX. Having never flown to KLAX due to the P3D 1fps slideshow, I was very excited to give it the old college try in XP11.

Now we’re talking, climbing up out of Honolulu, this time we hit 5000FPM in the climb. Up to 41,000, a short 4 hour flight and soon we’ll be to Los Angeles.

Time zone skipping, I don’t even know what day it is anymore. What time could it be. Well apparently it’s getting dark…

Approach controller is on tonight, finally another human. “Descend via the arrival, expect 24R” That’s a little far away from where I want to be as I dig into the parking spot chart… “Can we get 25L?” “Expect visual 25L”.

Sweet…cuts my taxi time in half…

I descend via the arrival and finally given clearance for the visual 25L. I start a gentle right turn to turn back towards the airport. I have the ILS tuned as a backup albeit not needed.

The plane is light, seriously light. I’m landing at 172 Cruise speeds which is a bit wild for me. 109kt VREF @ F30. It’s a squeaky clean touch down, onto the brakes, full reversers waking up the city behind me and it’s off at Golf Taxiway. Seriously short rollout which is amazing.

Company wants the plane back, so we’re offloading the TBM to be flown back to Villeneuve.

About 2 days later, it’s time to depart. 2 legs left…KLAX-KBFI-CZVL.

Company has just landed, on the same journey back as me! One of the bonanza’s is loaded up in that monster of a plane…

KLAX is a hazy mess, down to 3SM…It’s time to get out of here, hopefully to better weather and soon, to home.

The haze didn’t stop all the way up to cruise, I ended up losing sight of the ground entirely as I crossed through 4000 feet or so. Eventually however, I broke out to the front…

The flight was a whopping 3 hours and some odd minutes. This flight being the longest I think of all the TBM flights I’ve flown…Of course, Seattle as per usual seemed to be clouded in. However, I quite enjoy flying in this area.

Depending on the weather, the plan was to fly the ILS for 14R and side step over to the left had the weather been terrible most of the way down. The ceiling eased up enough for me to shoot the entire approach for 14L instead. I picked the smaller runway for it’s proximity to the FBO I wanted to go to as well as the short runway challenge. (It’s really not that short, especially not for this thing…)

And here we are, parked off at KBFI. I don’t fit in with some of the bizz jets. Nor the gorgeous new 737 deliveries parked on the opposite side!

I just can’t get over how good this sim looks.

I’ll be back with the final leg in a few days! :smiley:


I spent the day in Cochin trying to find an aircraft that has the legs to get me to Pago Pago in just a couple of hops. Well…looking for an aircraft and chowing down on some awesome Shrimp & Chicken Zafrani and Lamb Curry…mostly chowing down.

I wan’t having much luck. Then just as I was about to give it up, I ran across this jet sitting on a the cargo apron.

Evidently it had just flown in from the Caucuses…and it even has my username on it…go figure…

Anyway, its a Boeing Business Jet-3, essentially a B737-900 ER. It has two additional fuel tanks that give it a reported range of 4,790 miles, so three of four more flights should do it.


Reel back to December 21st…

I called up the MAD Company office and informed them of my diversion to William P Gwinn. They asked me if I was nuts.

You, of all people, Mr. Parrot? Getting all correct and diverting because of a little cloud, at this stage? Have you not got an IR? We need you at Space Coast Regional today.”

So I filed for an IFR flight, with the object of doing it VFR On Top…

I was back out in the 152 within the hour after the telephone chat…

It was windy, indeed. Look at that sock…

The 152 was off in a very short distance again, into the wind…

The same turbulence was, obviously, still there. Hopefully, climbing through it would lead to a less bumpy ride, above the tops…

And it was, up at 6,500 ft. Still a little unstable, but certainly better. I was tuned in to Treasure VOR, up Vero Beach way…

Holding the 174 radial inbound, however, was requiring a great deal of wind correction angle to the west. Time to check an old rule of thumb…

Every knot of cross wind component at 60 knots TAS required a degree of WCA to match track to course. At an estimate, I was doing around 95 KTAS, which meant 0.75 degree correction per knot, or conversely, there was 1.5 knots of component for every degree of correction. I was needing to fly 24 degrees of WCA. I had a 36 knot component from the west…

Fair enough. Timing to the abeam Fort Pierce NDB would reveal, later, if I also had a head or tail wind component. As there was no DME installed (okay by me!) I was having to exercise the brain a bit. There was a small respite from the solid overcast. It should have taken 26 minutes in no wind conditions, climb and all included, to get abeam Fort Pierce. It took 37 minutes today. I was doing 57 knots of ground speed, meaning I had a head wind component of over 30 knots…

Of course, there is a more “scientific” method to do this, but for estimates, it was good. The weather was certainly against this being a quick dash. Under the cloud base, less wind but turbulence. Above it; this. I slogged on. Over TRV VOR, it was overcast again, so I never saw Vero Beach…

Onto the next leg, out bound from TRV on radial 350, WCA applied. I started re-reading all the placards again, to help the time pass…

Huh! There was a thread recently about that. At the midway point between Vero Beach and Melbourne, I switched over to MLB VOR. It was clearing up again, up ahead. Valkaria passed to my right…

The head wind component seemed to be getting worse. It had taken a full extra 10 minutes to get abeam Valkaria. I looked out of the window at the ground below. It was almost standing still…

I decided to brave the turbulence and dropped back down, through the clouds…

All the way to 1,500 ft again. There was Merrit Island. I was making progress once more…

And out there to the north was Cape Canaveral. I sighed. How I used to like following the Space Shuttle flights. No internet then, but it had its charm finding out post-factum. I used to have a couple of model kits of it, in the eighties, one complete with its launcher, and another mounted on top of a 747. I kind of missed it, in a way. And, of course, by coincidence, 50 years ago the first visit of human kind to orbit around another world was leaving this same place. I was a bit awed.

I was getting close now. Finally, I came upon Space Coast Regional, Titusville…

Another steep approach…

And all parked up…

An official looking car was waiting for me, courtesy of MAD. The driver took me out across Indian River, to the Space Center, passed the VAB, and out to Pad 39A. There was someting unexpected on site…

I was met by several MAD executives, including the two I know.

“Ah, Mr. Parrot. You made it.”

I was looking at the shuttle while he spoke.

“Yes, I did. Is this some static display day coming up?” I asked, pointing at the space vehicle.

“Oh no, Mr. Parrot. A mission. A group of well to do enthusiasts has funded MAD for it.”

“You mean, it is going to fly?”

“Yes. And you are the one who will be flying it.”

It did not sink in. I had not heard him properly, or rather did not think I had.

“Funny, I was just thinking about the shuttle not 45 minutes ago.”


From Cessna 152 to Shuttle. There could be perhaps more wide ends of the spectrum…but not by much!



A Christmas Flight from SFO to Pago Pago in a Boeing 747-8i

Well turns out Santa needed a lot of Christmas presents delivered to Samoa, and he charted no less than a Boeing 747-8i to make the trip!

(The truth is I only have a day to do this, so I can’t make it a multi-leg trip, but what I do have is a Queen of the Skies in my hangar…)

So, instead of giving you all a harrowing week-long odyssey in a rickety Cessna, I strove to make this flight as accurate and authentic as I possibly could, adhering to airline and ATC SOPs to the greatest extent of my knowledge.

There are no direct flights of any kind between San Francisco and Pago Pago, so Santa had to go off-airline for this flight. He chartered N6067E, Boeing’s original 747-8i, with its beautiful “Boeing Sunrise” paint scheme. 6067E found its way to Gate G101, in the International Terminal of SFO, one of the few gates big enough to service it.

(And before you say it, yes I know N6067E has started a new life as the presidential VIP aircraft of Kuwait. Santa is magic.)

The 747-400 and 747-8 series are affectionately called the “ensuite fleet,” because they’re well-loved among pilots for having private lavatories in the flight deck. No more calling the flight attendant to block the aisle every time you have to go, and no more mingling with lowly first-class passengers!

My FO and received the 747-8i warmed up, as is nearly always the case, especially for aircraft that see constant line duty. I’ve already gotten the OFP from the gate agent. The time is now 1030 local; scheduled off-blocks time is 1130 local with calculated takeoff time being 1145.

As the FO runs through the preliminary flight procedure, I check all the switches on my EFIS to make sure nothing was out of place. I then turned my attention to the CDU preflight procedure.

Up first is the IDENT page. Model correct, bias adjustments correct, and nav data up to date.

Next up is POS INIT. To save memory, my company doesn’t include a database of gate coordinates, so we just enter the airport coordinates and then cross-check the GPS coordinates with the gate chart.

Since they match, I use the GPS coordinates for the initial position.

The FO has already logged into company datalink and is getting CPDLC data typed in for Oakland Oceanic, which we will log into after takeoff.

Meanwhile, the ramp handlers have arrived and are loading people and boxes into the back.

Dispatch has already sent an ACARS message that the route is ready, so I type in the route ID and send an ACARS request for the route over VHF. Shortly thereafter, I hear the bing-bong and the route is ready to be loaded.

As the handlers continue to load up massive numbers of presents, I cross-check the fixes in the route with what’s on the OFP. You can too.

Download the OFP

You’ll notice I wrote “MASTER” along the top. When making oceanic flights it’s critical that every crew member work off the same OFP, especially as dispatching is always a moving target, and over the course of an hour-long turn like this one, there could easily be 4 or 5 separate OFPs lying around the cockpit. It’s good practice to always destroy old OFPs when they are superseded by new ones, especially for Oceanic flights where there’s no radar ATC can use to tell you you’re following the wrong flight plan.

Fuel planning for these oceanic flights is a bit more involved too. Along with ETOPS fuel, which you can see in the OFP, we must also consider fuel necessary for the oceanic restrictions. We will be required to maintain a single airspeed and altitude when in the oceanic segment. If we can establish long-range communications, we can request step climbs to help save fuel, but there’s no guarantee of that. We must carry enough fuel to do the entire flight at one altitude, which is much less efficient. So you’ll see I carry a lot more fuel than is necessary to make the trip with the planned step climbs.

In addition, the 747-8i uses fuel flow to cool its hydraulic pumps. So we need to land with at least 30,000 pounds aboard to ensure those pumps get sufficiently cooled. Given the additional fuel required by ETOPS and the oceanic segment, this will not be a problem.

The FO leaves for the walk around, and shortly after comes another bing-bong and the PERF INIT data is ready to be loaded. Some of the numbers are wrong so I tweak the values and then accept the rest. The cost index is 150, but so little of the route is in class-I airspace that it really doesn’t matter. Most of the route will be done at a fixed airspeed.

I don’t execute yet; the FO needs to verify too. These numbers are preliminary. I then go back to the route, which still needs to be verified against the OFP.

With my dispatch in one hand and a colored pencil in the other, I scan down the list of oceanic fixes, circling each fix name in the OFP as it appears in the datalinked route. I then return to the top of the flight plan, and do it again, this time verifying the track and distance from each fix to the next. Each time I’m satisfied, I draw a slash through the circle.

Once I’m done, every oceanic fix has a circle and a slash through it. What I’m carefully checking for is off-by-one-digit errors in the oceanic fix names; for example 04W60 instead of 03W60. This is an incredibly easy mistake to make when typing in fixes, that will result in the aircraft being up to sixty nautical miles off course. We call this class of errors gross navigational errors, or GNEs. Whereas, say, on precision approaches the pilot’s concern is minor navigational errors that could result in the aircraft getting too close to terrain or obstacles, for oceanic flight, such small errors in navigation are not important (and indeed, prior to GPS, expected!). What is important is single-digit errors like these that can result in major deviations from the flight plan.

Once I’m satisfied, I accept the route in the FMC, but again, hold on executing until the FO is back.

Two more bing-bongs, and wind and descent forecast data has been loaded into the FMC for the entire route. I have a brief moment to relax and scan through the OFP before the FO returns from the walkaround. She reports nothing out of the ordinary.

The FO starts her CDU items, verifying the route and performance data. Meanwhile, I’m reviewing the taxi routing we can expect on the EFB.

As you can see, we can expect ramp control to clear us to push back, start, and taxi to spot “10”, which is adjacent taxiway A. Once at spot 10, we contact SFO Ground for our taxi clearance. I briefly discuss this with my FO so we’re both on the same page.

With the FO done with her items, we quickly run through the preliminary flight checklist on the ECL. Next she discusses the relevant NOTAMs with me (there are none relevant).

After about 15 minutes of idle conversation, the ACARS alert pops up again. This time it’s ATC with the pre-departure clearance (PDC), which I bring up on the CDU.

VIA      TO

This is the domestic portion only of the clearance, which takes us as far as MAFIC intersection. From there the oceanic clearance, which we will get from San Francisco Radio, will take over. I enter runway 28L into the CDU and select the GAAP7 departure, and add it to the route. The FO nods and I execute the change.

The rest of the route, which you can see on the OFP you downloaded, is all lat/lon fixes in standard ARINC format. Oakland Oceanic allows user preferred routes (UPRs, aka random routing, not along an airway) for any aircraft that meets RNP-4 navigational criteria. Fortunately our 747-8i does, so we can enjoy the fuel benefit of plotting a great-circle route to our destination, rather than following an airway.

The GAAP7 departure is easy to brief; it’s just flying a radial off SFO to a fix, and then vectors on course.

With about 20 minutes left until off-blocks, the FO and I do the weather brief next. San Francisco is bright and clear, with no significant weather to note. The enroute prog charts tell the story of the flight in three images.

The initial climb-out has us passing under the jet stream, but at a low enough altitude so as not to be a concern.

Once we get towards the equator, we will inevitably enter the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ). This is an ever-present, turbulent band of thunderstorms and other nasty weather that hugs the equator. The SIGWX chart makes it clear that we will be threading two large areas of embedded thunderstorms, rising to far above our flight-planned altitude.

The descent is the worst news, though, showing us descending through an area of isolated embedded thunderstorms. We can surely expect to be vectored around areas of convective activity (or we will have to do our own avoidance), and we can inform our passengers to expect a bumpy ride on the descent.

The ACARS comes alive again; this time it’s the airport with the fuel slip, which is also sent to the printer. The rampers have also come back with the final tally on boxes and people.

I get the final numbers onto the master OFP and sign it.

I start plugging away in the EFB to do my final performance calculations.

With the performance data finalized, I do the takeoff performance calculations and start loading the information back into the CDU.

Per SFO noise abatement policy, I arm quiet-climb (Q-CLB), and then the FO and I cross-check V-speeds.

Since this is a flight in class-II airspace, it’s important to do a long-range navigation check. I cross-check the GPS against the IRU, and write the delta on the cover page of the OFP.

Five minutes to go. The head flight attendant has given us the OK signal, and the FO made a quick announcement on the PA to arm doors and prepare for push. The FO starts the APU and we both run our before-start procedures, then run the checklist.

With the flight deck door locked and the doors all armed, we contact SFO Ramp and tell them we’re ready for push. They clear us to push and taxi to spot 10, as expected. The ground crew, knowing our EOBT, is already there with the tug, ready to connect. I put on my headset, turn on the interphone, and give the ramper a ring. After a short back and forth, the parking brake comes off and the airplane is pushing off the blocks, about three minutes late.

As the tug positions the nose, I call for engines 3 and 4 to be started and throw the fuel control switches. Engine start, like the APU, is completely automatic in the -8i and does not need to be monitored at all. Still, I split my attention between the ENG page and the view outside. Once 3 and 4 are running, the FO opens the valves for 1 and 2 and I throw the switches. By the time the tug comes to a stop, all four engines are running. The FO puts the FCTL page up on the center display while I wait for the ground crew to show me the steering lockout pin.

I call for takeoff flaps. As the flaps go down, I cycle the flight controls. It’s important to do the flight control check while the flaps are in motion, to reveal any sticking or binding issues that might be present. The FO then completes her before-taxi items, we clear the area, and we’re off the short distance to spot 10.

Short of spot 10, the FO slips the radio over to SFO Ground, and I get my taxi clearance as the FO copies it down. It’s not a surprise, as there’s really only one taxi route that the 747-8i can take from golf terminal to runway 28L.

SFO Ground is quick to give us our clearance to cross the 1s.

The before takeoff checklist is quick and easy. I quickly review the runway and heading, and takeoff and climb settings with the FO.

SFO Tower has our takeoff clearance ready for us before we even get to the hold-short bars. The FO flips on the inboard landing lights as a reminder that we’re cleared to go. In the 747, oversteering is important on tight turns like this one onto runway 28L. Turn when the centerline is well behind you.

Once on the runway, I do a quick heading cross-check, activate the radar altimeter, bring the throttles up to 50%, and push TO/GA. The FO confirms takeoff thrust and I focus on the runway centerline.

80 knots (checked) … V1 (hands off throttle)… ro-tate! Smooth and deliberate back pressure to slowly bring the nose up, 2° per second about.

I watch the VSI, and cross-check with the radar altimeter. When both are climbing, I call “positive rate” and the FO swings the gear. At 400 feet, LNAV and VNAV light up, and I call for the autopilot. TO/GA lateral and vertical modes deactivate to make way for LNAV and VNAV, which flies the GAAP7 departure with the quiet-climb profile.

At 800 feet the thrust levers start coming back and the nose comes over. The airplane holds V2 + 10, making a slow and laborious climb with flaps to the acceleration height.

It’s a sight I’ve seen plenty of times in real life, 747s and A380s coming off the 28s, on the GAAP7 departure, loaded to the gills with gas for Hawaii or Japan or Australia, slowly crawling up into the sky on that quiet climb.

Our initial cleared top altitude is 5,000 feet, which ATC holds us at for now.

At 3,000 feet, the thrust derate is washed out and full climb power is restored. The airplane begins accelerating towards flaps-up speed, and I call for the flaps to come up as each speed is passed. Passing the up speed, the airplane continues accelerating towards 250 knots while heading directly out to sea.

ATC holds us low for a while, but once past the 3-mile continental airspace, finally gives us all the way up to our filed altitude, FL340. I dial it into the altitude window and hit intervene, and the airplane gleefully climbs.

Passing 10,000, the FO kills the landing lights and uses the center CDU to log into Oakland Oceanic CPDLC. She gets ADS-C reporting going and gets the active HF frequencies to use.

With 20 minutes until our first oceanic waypoint, the FO contacts San Francisco Radio on CPDLC and requests our oceanic clearance. It comes in via the center CDU:

29N130W 25N135W 21N140W 20N141W 11N150W10N151W 03S160W
FM MAFIC/2016 MNTN F340 M086

We received the UPR we filed, a random routing between MAFIC and PASSA intersections, where we rejoin the B577 airway.

Because there’s no radar over the ocean, there’s only procedural separation. So every oceanic clearance must have three important elements: a time to arrive at the first fix, an altitude to hold for the oceanic segment, and a speed to maintain for the oceanic segment. By holding those three things constant, aircraft are separated by time and space. I program the FMC with our new oceanic parameters.

Using the RTA feature, I configure the FMC to cross MAFIC at 2016Z. It shows an RTA speed of Mach 0.847, which is doable, so I accept it.

Next I set a Mach 0.86 speed restriction at MAFIC and all waypoints thereafter.

Finally, I perform my coast-out checks. The three altimeters are cross-checked for RVSM compliance, the compasses are checked three ways, and the HF check was already done by the FO. Sadly, I’m unable to sneak in a nav check before getting out of range of the nearest coastal VOR, so I’ll have to skip that one for now. I record the results in the OFP.

It’s smooth, bright, and clear as we cross out of domestic airspace and into Oakland Oceanic’s control. NorCal hands us over to San Francisco Radio, and the FO checks in over HF and sends a quick SELCAL check. With that done, the HF is muted. All future comms will be through CPDLC if possible.

About a half hour after crossing into oceanic airspace, it’s time to initiate SLOP (strategic lateral offset procedures). I have the option of flying either the course centerline, 1 mile to the right, or 2 miles to the right, and I can choose randomly among the three. In theory, this decreases by one-third the chance of a collision should someone make an error and end up on my course.

Of course, no pilot is truly random. Only 20% of pilots choose the 2-mile-right offset, and so for maximum safety, that’s what I choose. I plug it into the RTE page, the FO confirms, and I execute it.

The transponder is set to 2000, as is standard in class-II Pacific airspace, and I tune 121.5 on my VHF radio, and the FO tunes 123.45 on hers. We maintain a listening watch on these air-to-air frequencies in case something happens and we need to manage our own separation from nearby aircraft.

Ten minutes after crossing MAFIC, it’s time to plot our present position. I grab the GPS coordinates from the PROG page, and plot them on the route chart. This is another defense against a GNE – if one of the lat/lon fix names was off by a single digit, you would easily be able to tell after 10 minutes by comparing your plotted position to the route line. Everything looks good this time, though.

Not surprisingly, the first FMC-calculated step climb is early in the route, as all the fuel used to get off the ground and up to 34,000 feet is now gone, and the aircraft is lighter. As we approach the S/C marker on the map, the FO sends a quick CPDLC request to ATC, requesting FL360. A minute or two later, ATC comes back with the climb instruction. I punch the ACPT button and up we go. I monitor the level-off at 36,000; RVSM requirements dictate that the overshoot not be greater than 100 feet.

Zooming the ND way out, I can see our first FIX, midway between 25N35 and 21N40. This fix was copied from the OFP, and marks the location where, in case of a diversion, it is better to continue towards Hilo International Airport in Hawaii, rather than turn back to SFO. There’s a second fix further down the flight plan, which marks the equal-time point between PHTO and Pago Pago Airport.

These equal-time fixes were given to me by Dispatch for my convenience. The 747-8i is indeed ETOPS-certified, but it’s certified ETOPS-330, giving it a 330-minute deviation radius for planning purpose. This ample deviation radius means no intermittent ETOPS airports are required between SFO and Pago Pago, as the 330-minute radius around both airports is enough to encircle the entire route. However, any long-haul pilot will tell you that ETOPS planning alternates are just that – for planning only – and in the event of a real diversion, you choose the airport that works best for you. Hence, Hilo International was added to the flight plan, as it is a more realistic choice of diversion for this leg of the flight.

The weather remained clear and smooth passing down through the 30 latitudes.

Getting down to the 20s, though, things started to sock in below us.

Two hours and 15 minutes into the flight, the FUEL TANK/ENG light came on, as is to be expected. As you can see on the FUEL synoptic, we started out with the inboard tanks only feeding all four engines using the powerful override pumps. Now the total in each inboard main tank (45,700 or so pounds) is about equal to the total amount of fuel in each outboard tank plus reserve tank. At this point, it’s time for the FO to set the pumps and crossfeed valves for the “tank-to-engine” configuration.

And done. Each engine now feeds off its own tank (with 2 and 3 sharing a crossfeed), and fuel will drop at the same rate across all six tanks. The EICAS warning disappears.

Crossing south of Hawaii, on our closest approach to the big island, the weather continues to thicken up. It’s time for another step climb to FL380. The FO makes the request over CPDLC, it’s approved, and I program the FMC.

The big mistake I made last time was not setting a speed for the climb. In procedural airspace, your cleared airspeed is to be maintained at all times – regardless of if your ETA changes, if you’re climbing or descending, or anything. Procedural separation relies on consistent airspeed. Without setting a speed for the last step climb, the aircraft did the climb at the default ECON speed, and I had to speed intervene to fix it. This time, I’m not making that mistake. You can see I dialed in the new altitude as well as a speed for the climb: our cleared airspeed, Mach 0.86.

As we continue to progress through the flight plan, I add another slash through each fix after verifying the ACARS automatically sent a position report. (If it didn’t, I would have to manually give the position report over HF.)

I also cross-check ETA with ATA, estimated fuel with actual fuel (and I include the minimum required fuel in parentheses), and I verify that the aircraft turns to the heading shown on the OFP.

I’m also continuing to plot the 10-minute positions after each fix and verify we’re on course.

As we fly below 10° N latitude, the intertropical convergence zone comes into view. As predicted, there are isolated thunderstorms in pockets ahead of us. For now I maintain the course (well, 2 miles right of course because of SLOP), but I’m ready to make a heading change if I need to. The course keeps us clear of the major storms, and we pass through the ITCZ unscathed, though the FO put the seatbelt sign on for the duration of the equatorial crossing, to keep people in their seats as we plowed through the bumpy air.

For the first time since leaving SFO, we have a sighting of land! That’s Kiribati, an excellent diversion option if we need it. The island is just south of the equator.

Shortly thereafter we cross into Auckland Oceanic’s airspace. The CDU has already automatically logged on to Auckland CPDLC, and a message arrives with the primary and secondary HF frequencies to use. The message says CONTACT, not MONITOR, so the FO flips the HF back on and makes crackling voice contact with Auckland. She then passes along another SELCAL test, and all is well. The HF is once again muted. The ADS-C page now shows Auckland’s contracts as well as Oakland’s.

Passing out of the ITCZ, the air is once again smooth and bone-dry. The next fix is PASSA, which puts us on the B557 airway. There’s also a step-climb to FL400 indicated, and so I request it from Auckland via CPDLC, and it’s quickly approved. Up to FL400 we go.

Approaching the end of our oceanic segment, we’re greeted with more pockets of isolated convection. The weather radar shows the pockets; I monitor the route to ensure we remain clear of the worst areas.

One of the pockets intrudes on the flight path; normally this would require attempting to request a route offset over CPDLC, but from the weather radar it looks like simply removing the SLOP should be enough to avoid it. Pilots have discretion to add or remove SLOP as they wish without getting clearance from ATC. So I simply cancel the SLOP, rejoin the route centerline, and narrowly avoid the thunderstorm. The seatbelt sign goes on and we ride the turbulence for a few minutes.

Unfortunately, the next obstacle wasn’t so forgiving, so I have my FO request up to a 15-mile right offset from course to maneuver around the thunderstorms. ATC comes back over CPDLC with the approval, and a requirement that we report rejoining the course. I use my new 15-mile maneuvering room to thread between two cells. At this point, the seatbelt sign is likely staying on until we’re parked. I inform the passengers of the bumpy ride to come.

Just as we’re clear of the thunderstorm, I hear another bing-bong. It’s Auckland telling us to contact Faleolo Approach on VHF. Rather than go through the hassle of trying to send another CPDLC message, I simply tune the VHF, contact Faleolo, and tell them I’m resuming my normal course. They confirm my message.

I steer the aircraft back on the centerline. Faleolo passes my domestic flight plan, which will take over once we finish the oceanic segment.

“N6067E, after DARMA, cleared to Pago Pago via radar vectors Pago Pago VOR, maintain FL340. Squawk 6163. Expect ILS runway 05.”

I read back the clearance and append the ILS to the CDU route. It’s time now to do the descent prep. I know from experience the gotchas of the ILS runway 5 approach, which I discuss with the FO. We also cover the airport and taxi briefing.

As you can see in the notes, heavy aircraft are required to roll out the entire length of the runway, then back-taxi to the terminal. Also, Pago Pago has only one stand large enough to accommodate a 747-8i, and taxiing into it is tricky. I brief the FO on what to expect, and how the ground crew will help us maneuver into the stand. Finally, we cover the relevant NOTAMs for Pago Pago – an approach frequency has changed, and the AWOS is out of service.

Yet more thunderstorms as we approach Samoa.

Crossing our last oceanic fix, I verify that the SLOP has been removed, squawk the domestic code, and resume ECON speed. A short while later, the FO checks the ADS-C page to verify all remaining contracts have been closed.

Pago Pago’s weather reporting is out of service by NOTAM, so Faleolo Approach passes me their current weather. With that information, I do the last descent planning item, approach data. The FO confirms the numbers and I transfer them into the APPR REF page of the CDU.

I grab the forecast landing weight from the PROG page and plug it in. VREF is always flown with an additive; for calm winds like what we have here, that additive is only +5 knots. So I set VREF+5 as my approach speed.

We brief the landing and then run the descent checklist on the ECL.

Approaching Pago Pago, I do a coast-in nav accuracy check, cross-checking the GPS fix against the nav radio data. Everything looks good. We cross DARMA and commence our domestic flight plan.

Faleolo Approach gives us a heading for the approach and pilot’s discretion all the way down to 5000, so I roll the selected altitude down, and once crossing the T/D marker, the airplane begins it’s descent.

It’s a bumpy ride the whole way down, through turbulent air. Faleolo gives me a couple heading changes to avoid some areas of strong turbulence.

Finally, descending through about 15,000, first sight of the island is made, peeking out between cloud layers.

Passing through 10,000, the FO flips on the inboard landing lights, and we run our short approach checklist. I verify that the ILS frequencies and courses are dialed in and correct, and turn on APCH mode on the IFSD.

Faleolo Approach gives us vectors for a downwind leg, preparing to turn us onto the ILS. I speed intervene and slow the aircraft down to 210 knots, commanding flaps 5.

Out past GRUPY, Approach finally gives us an intercept heading and clears us for the ILS. Faleolo only controls inbound aircraft down to 5,000 feet. Below that, you’re handed off to CTAF and you’re on your own. With our clearance in hand, and at 5,000 feet, Faleolo hands us over to CTAF frequency. My FO switches and sends a position report.

And we turn onto the ILS. I arm APP mode, and the autopilot eventually captures the localizer. I command gear and flaps 10.

At BLUJA, the aircraft intercepts the glideslope. I cross-check the altitudes and command flaps 30. The FO runs the landing checklist with the ECL.

The FO and I gain sight of the runway at about 1,000 feet. The approach is stable, so I click off the autopilot and auto throttle, and transition to the visual approach.

The aircraft arrives at minimums with the runway plainly in sight. In this picture you can clearly see why minimums are so high (845 feet vs. the usual 200) and far back – look at that cliff rising right up into the approach path!

50… 30… 20… 10…

Touchdown was moderately firm and just short of the touchdown point.

The FO calls reversers green, speedbrake deployed. At 60 knots I call manual braking and the FO confirms the autobrake disarms. I bring the airplane to slow halt at the very end of the runway.

The 747-8 is an awkward beast to maneuver in the turnaround spot. In this picture I track the wrong centerline.

Back on track.

When back-taxiing, it’s important to taxi offset from the centerline (wingspan permitting). It helps increase your visibility to oncoming flights. My FO announces the back-taxi on CTAF. No other flights are approaching, however.

We take taxiway C off the runway to the ramp. The FO starts the APU; there’s no gate power here.

The marshalers meet us at the ramp to help negotiate the tricky parking.

Parking brake set! The marshaler heads to his next spot while other rampers unload the aircraft.

The tall view from the cockpit! I verify APU bus power and kill all four engines. The FO runs the shutdown and secure checklists while I pick up all the coffee cups and food containers and hand them to the FA.

I hope you enjoyed this flight. I couldn’t make it an epic journey by time or stops, but it was epic in its own way, in complexity and technology. Regardless, Santa will take any ride he can get, and there’s no better aircraft than the Queen of the Skies to get hundreds of thousands of pounds of Christmas cheer to islands across the Pacific.


The tiny spin recovery print reminds me…

I was getting an MRI. I’ve had several so I’m an old pro at it. This time it was a full torso thing so I was going in feet first. They got me all set, lying down, into the tunnel about up to my chest, face up.

As I was lying there I noticed a little glass port, about half a centimeter across. Just above it was a little placard. As I was laying there I could not read it. So I sat up, leaning on my elbows. Still couldn’t read it. So I sat all the way up with my eyes just a few inches from the little glass port. The placard said:

Warning: Laser Eyesight Hazard

Yep…very helpful. :roll_eyes:


Welcome to Mudspike! That was a great overview of an oceanic crossing, and all that goes into it.

Is CPDLC actually simulated or did you add that for authenticity?


Very nice @RISCfuture! Welcome, and an epic flight.